Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bishop Senyonjo Preaches the Gospel: One Doesn't Need to Be Converted to Another Sexuality to Be Loved by God

"I don't care what anyone says.  It's Bible-wrong.  And you go to hell if you don't believe the Bible."

I walk in on this conversation, from another room.  My Aunt Pauline is speaking.  I'm on a trip to Texas to visit relatives, with my mother and her sisters Pauline, Kat, and Billie.

"You can think what you want.  But I work with one, and he's a human being, just like anyone else.  And I feel sorry for him, the way people treat him for being just who he is."

That's my mother.  She is in Pauline's face, drawn up as erect as possible, giving it right back to her Bible-quoting sister.  Behind her, her younger sister Billie is nodding vigorously to support every word my mother says.  Across the room, Kat, the oldest, is furiously swinging the foot of the leg crossed over her other leg, glaring at Pauline with an intensity that could kill, if the glare took flight from her blazing green eyes and became a weapon.

I walk in, and the conversation stops.  And I suddenly realize that, though I've made no declarations about myself and my relationship with Steve at this point in our lives, and though there is officially no subject at all to discuss as long as I remain closeted, the conversation is about meI'm one of those unnamed "ones" with whom my mother works, whose right to be who they are she defends, and whom Pauline--the only sister who attends church regularly--wants to condemn to hell, per her Bible.

And I think of this conversation all over again this morning, after a sleepless night that had everything to do with Steve's and my recognition that we are often treated as less than human by some of our family members, solely because of who God has made us to be.  I think of this conversation, which popped into my head as I got up from that sleepless night, and as I read that Bishop Christopher Senyonjo will be speaking at St. Paul's Episcopal cathedral in San Diego tomorrow.

As Bishop Senyonjo has said, one of the urgent challenges he has faced as a Christian pastor in Uganda (a pastor trained in the field of counseling) is this: it's the very folks who attend church and believe in God who present the biggest threat to the well-being of gay and lesbian young folks in his country.  There's a direct correlation, in his cultural context (where well-funded right-wing American Christians have whipped up the flames for some time now) between lethal homophobia and church membership.  

It's people who claim to own the Bible and to speak on God's behalf who are seeking to incite violence against their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Uganda.  Bishop Senyonjo's rejoinder to them:

This is hard for some people, that God can love you as you are. As he loves somebody who may be heterosexual, he also loves LGBT people in the same way. For many people it is not easy who think they are religious. But I’ve been convinced that this is true. One doesn’t need to be converted first to another sexuality to be loved by God.

One doesn’t need to be converted first to another sexuality to be loved by God.  That's the sticking point in the intra-church conversation about the place of gay and lesbian people in the world.  As long as some people of faith continue insisting, in one way or another, that their brothers and sisters who happen to be made gay by God "convert" (and, if they refuse to do this, then that they hide), we will not move forward in finding ways to include LGBT people forthrightly and lovingly in our churches.

And the churches will continue to be a force for evil in the world, vis-a-vis those who are gay, rather than the force for redemptive, healing love they are called by Christ to be.

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